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State auditor explains 'no' vote to mining exploration in NE Minnesota

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State Auditor Rebecca Otto was in Ely Tuesday to explain why she voted last month against mineral exploration by mining companies in parts of northeastern Minnesota, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

Otto's vote in a meeting of the state Executive Council rankled the pro-copper mining community, as she became the first state official to announce opposition to the state's move to copper mining.

In the end, Otto was outvoted 4-1 in the balloting by the five-member council, a move that allowed 31 mineral exploration leases to go ahead, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

The council includes Gov. Mark Dayton, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, Attorney General Lori Swanson and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

The after-effects of her vote appear to be lingering. The News Tribune said opponents of Otto's stance, even some of her fellow DFLers, have called for an opponent to run against her in the next election.

On Tuesday, Otto was greeted with "Dump Otto" signs on several utility poles leading from downtown to Grand Ely Lodge on Shagawa Lake, the paper said.

Defending her vote, Otto argued that too many times mining companies have folded up their operations and left taxpayers with the bill for cleaning up an environmental mess.

She also noted how the "Dump Otto" signs were somewhat appropriate, the News Tribune said.

"I’m trying to avoid dumping (copper mine) cleanup costs on taxpayers," Otto said.

According to MPR, Otto told the approximate 75 people at Tuesday's meeting that the state needs to know more about the effects of copper-nickel mining, and that she voted "no" to make a point.

"I need to draw it to people's attention, whether we embark on this or not, that we understand what's at stake for us as a state, and the taxpayers of the state," she said.

MPR said one attendee praised Otto at meeting for sticking her neck out; while another said she's not thinking about how mining adds to the state's tax base while she's "looking out for the taxpayers."

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